> Skip to content
  • Published: 17 May 2022
  • ISBN: 9780262543361
  • Imprint: MIT Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 282
  • RRP: $34.99

The World Set Free



In a novel written on the eve of World War I, H. G. Wells imagines a war “to end all wars” that begins in atomic apocalypse but ends in an enlightened utopia.

Writing in 1913, on the eve of World War I’s mass slaughter and long before World War II’s mushroom cloud finale, H. G. Wells imagined a war that begins in atomic apocalypse but ends in a utopia of enlightened world government. Set in the 1950s, Wells’s neglected novel The World Set Free describes a conflict so horrific that it actually is the war that ends war.

Wells—the first to imagine a “uranium-based bomb”—offers a prescient description of atomic warfare that renders cities unlivable for years: “Whole blocks of buildings were alight and burning fiercely, the trembling, ragged flames looking pale and ghastly and attenuated in comparison with the full-bodied crimson glare beyond.” Drawing on discoveries by physicists and chemists of the time, Wells foresees both a world powered by clean, plentiful atomic energy—and the destructive force of the neutron chain reaction.

With a cast of characters including Marcus Karenin, the moral center of the narrative; Firmin, a proto-Brexiteer; and Egbert, the visionary young British monarch, Wells dramatizes a world struggling for sanity. Wells’s supposedly happy ending—a planetary government presided over by European men—may not appeal to contemporary readers, but his anguish at the world’s self-destructive tendencies will strike a chord.

  • Published: 17 May 2022
  • ISBN: 9780262543361
  • Imprint: MIT Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 282
  • RRP: $34.99

About the author

H. G. Wells

H. G. Wells, the third son of a small shopkeeper, was born in Bromley in 1866. After two years' apprenticeship in a draper's shop, he became a pupil-teacher at Midhurst Grammar School and won a scholarship to study under T. H. Huxley at the Normal School of Science, South Kensington. He taught biology before becoming a professional writer and journalist. He wrote more than a hundred books, including novels, essays, histories and programmes for world regeneration.

Wells, who rose from obscurity to world fame, had an emotionally and intellectually turbulent life. His prophetic imagination was first displayed in pioneering works of science fiction such as The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897) and The War of the Worlds (1898). Later he became an apostle of socialism, science and progress, whose anticipations of a future world state include The Shape of Things to Come (1933). His controversial views on sexual equality and women's rights were expressed in the novels Ann Veronica (1909) and The New Machiavelli (1911). He was, in Bertrand Russell's words, 'an important liberator of thought and action'.

Wells drew on his own early struggles in many of his best novels, including Love and Mr Lewisham (1900), Kipps (1905), Tono-Bungay (1909) and The History of Mr Polly (1910). His educational works, some written in collaboration, include The Outline of History (1920) and The Science of Life (1930). His Experiment in Autobiography (2 vols., 1934) reviews his world. He died in London in 1946.

Also by H. G. Wells

See all

Related titles